The glory which You [God the Father] have given Me [Jesus] I have given to them [Jesus followers], that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. –Jesus; The Biblical Gospel of John, 17:22-23
“It’s very good that you exist.” Believing this of another is the ultimate in positive affirmation that the other exists, and it is, I have been claiming, the biblical basis of love. It is what God said about us in the beginning (Genesis 1:31). It is what we must hear God say to us and more importantly, it is what we must experience from God to be able to love in His way. It is what we must offer to others if we claim to follow Christ (1John 4:7-21). However, it is easily misunderstood.
It seems to me that our American culture (all of Western culture?) has taken this “very good that you exist” thing wrongly because of the way our culture has redefined tolerance as affirming anything that makes the other person “happy.” Consequently, a critical element of love, implied in the statement, has been overlooked. It is indeed very good that I exist. I need that affirmation from God and from others in my life. What it doesn’t mean, however, is that everything I do is good or even that every aspect of who I am is good. The God of the Bible does not tolerate all behavior and being in the way our society has come to expect. In other words, who I am and what I do is not indiscriminately excused by God if it is indeed not “good” according to His nature (see my recent blog on forgiveness). Therefore, as a Jesus follower I cannot indiscriminately affirm aspects of being or behavior that are not “good” according to God’s morality and commands. This applies to me and others–and I’m assuming with great humility that I can know to some extent “good” as defined by God.
I believe that God yearns for our “goodness,” that He wants the best for us; this is clearly seen in the Bible in God’s promises, culminating in Jesus’ death for us and His subsequent resurrection. Returning to God’s own statement of the very goodness of creation (Genesis 1:31), what is meant there by “good” is “the purpose for which it was created.” It is very good that all of creation, including you and me, exists for the purpose God intended. Therefore, it is good that I exist within the context of my becoming fully whom I was created to be. You, too. For me, this “becoming” means to journey towards a life ultimately free of the lies in which I have come to believe and the inner wounds I have suffered, a life free of the fears with which I live and the hurt I inflict on others. I believe Jesus makes this explicitly clear that it is also God’s desire for us in what He says He gives us (see the passage at the top of the page). He explicitly gives glory to those who follow Him, the very same glory given to Him by God, His Father.
So, what exactly is this glory Jesus gives us? Theologian M. Robert Mulholland Jr. (Dictionary of Spiritual Theology, Zondervan) notes that an aspect of the Greek word doxa (glory) refers to the “essence of a person, that which makes a person who he or she is” (216). In John 17:1, Jesus tells us that the Father (God) and the Son (Jesus, God-Man) “glorify” each other. In other words, both Father and Son find their essence, their true identities only in relationship with each other. Try this: a human father has no identity apart from his son (or daughter). It seems obvious that for one to have identity as “father” requires the existence of one’s child. Similarly, for one to have identity as “son” or “daughter” requires that one has a father. And so it is with God. God the Father finds His true identity as Father only in relationship with His Son, Jesus. Similarly, the Son, Jesus, finds His true identity as Son only in relationship with His Father. Mutual glorification, therefore, means that only in relationship with each other do Father and Son fully become who they each are (see John 17:1, 5). And not just any relationship will do, such as acquaintance or friend, it must be a relationship of loving union…they, Father and Son, are one (see John 10:30).
This is the same glory Jesus is offering to us when we choose to follow Him: the glory He has with His Father, God. Jesus is saying to me that it is only through the same relationship of loving union with God that He has can I find my true identity and become fully who I am meant to be. (Some writers call this my true self as contrasted with my false self.) This loving union is the relationship Jesus intends for us in John 17:3 when He defines eternal life as “knowing God and Jesus,” where “knowing” means the most deeply intimate knowing of another person one can imagine. It is a “knowing” that is most often used when referring to the intimacy between husband and wife that takes a lifetime to achieve (and it is never actually “achieved” since the journey of becoming intimate is eventually interrupted by the death of one spouse–with God, my “knowing” Him, an infinite being, in this deeply intimate way will take an eternity). Therefore, the glory offered to me by Jesus is to become my true self–the image of God I was created to be– through a relationship of loving union with Him (this relationship is sometimes referred to as the “transformative union” with God).
So, with this understanding of love as affirming the goodness of one’s existence and wanting the best for one, which can only in relationship of loving union with God, then what does it mean for me to love my neighbor as I love myself (Matthew 22:39)?
Self-love is me affirming that it is very good that I exist, where the goodness referred to is that I become freely me–my true self–the me I was created to be, the me whom is free of the baggage of the lies I’ve believed and still believe, the hurts I’ve experienced and caused, the fears that torment me, and the failures that haunt me; it is the me free from all the baggage that hold me captive and feeds my false self. This is the goodness I intrinsically want for myself, it seems built in to humanity that we each want this for ourselves. I long for this in the depths of my soul…and I can only find it in a relationship of loving union Christ.
Then, if this is the healthy way I love myself, what about my neighbors? I surely must want this for them, too. I must affirm that it is very good that they exist and I must want the best for them, as well, which is for them to become fully the person who God created them to be. Therefore, I must want them to be in a relationship of loving union with God. This means I must not want for them anything else, nothing, no matter how pleasant it may seem in the moment, that would interfere with this transformative union with God from starting or from continuing in a healthy way. And, again, I must exhibit great humility in expressing what I want for and not want for my neighbor.
As for my enemies (Matthew 5:44)…well, the same thing must apply if I am to love them as commanded by God. I must affirm the goodness of their existence and I must want for them the things that move them toward a relationship of loving union with God. Only in this way, it seems to me, can I fully and rightly (righteously) hate the things they do to interfere with their relationship with God thereby preventing them from becoming fully themselves as they are created to be by God.
This, I believe, is what it means to hate the sin but love the sinner, whether that sinner is me, my neighbor, or my enemy.
Sadly, not everyone will appreciate this point of view; most, in fact, will not (see Matthew 7:13-14). Our society spends a lot of money trying to convince us, and we try to convince ourselves and each other, that many, many things and behaviors are good for us when, in fact, they keep us from this type of relationship with God, and, therefore, from becoming who we are in Christ. Generally, most of us don’t want to become fully who God created us each to be, at least from God’s perspective; rather, we continue to think we know better than God what is best for ourselves.
A relationship of loving union with Jesus, a transformative union: it is what Jesus means when He says He is the only way to God, the Father (John 14:6). No other relationship will do. None.
Becoming my true self in relationship with Christ, this is what it truly means to be “saved.”